My timeat the Herräng Dance Camp 2008
As usual, I made the decision to go to Herräng very late. I found a flight on the internet, filled in all my details, hovered my mouse sprite over the 'confirm' button for a bit, then changed my mind. The next day, I went through the process again, expecting to buy a ticket for the Wednesday of week 3, but then decided that I couldn't face rushing around to get ready in time, so I'd give myself another day, and filled in all the details for flying out on the Thursday instead. Again, my mouse sprite hovered over the 'confirm' button, and long did I hesitate. Eventually I clicked, and a feeling of doom immediately descended over me. I had sentenced myself to another trip to Herräng.
I packed. This year I remembered the half of the adapter for my camera charger that I forgot last year, and then lost the other half, which has a nice symmetry. Following tradition again, I set my alarm for exactly twelve hours later than the time I intended (despite checking on this exact matter twice) and I got up too late to take the Metro, so I needed a taxi. I flew to Amsterdam, and saw this massive banner advertisement, and immediately I knew I was abroad. It's Keira Knightley, the school-girlish British actress, here presented as some exotic goddess designed to persuade some people to part with large amounts of money for some smelly liquid. Just across the way I saw this one too – Ewan McGregor doing the same job. You don't see British stars used this way in Britain, and the effect to my eye is very strange. Don't people know that that's just Ewan - that bloke who rides a motorbike on the telly? How can anyone possibly take these images seriously? British stars just aren't cool, at least, not to us.
I tried to learn some Swedish words and phrases this year, but only had a little success. Part of the problem was that the internet, my source of information, was rather inaccurate (the phrase I had learned to mean 'get lost!' turned out to mean 'start knitting!'), and another problem was that Swedish pronunciation is fiendishly difficult. It doesn't have the hard-and-fast rules of Finnish or Lithuanian. Perhaps this is because it has had a written form for much longer. Take 'skitbra' for instance. The S and K are pronounced in a very specific way, that is a sort of wide hissing sound made with the mouth in a position it never assumes in English. One word did come in handy a couple of times, though: kissnödig, which means 'in (urgent) need of a pee'.
Here you see my page of Swedish on the folding table of my airplane seat. On it is another piece of evidence that I really don't belong in this world, or don't understand it. How can juice be simultaneously pure, mixed and from concentrate?
My 'plane flew most of the way to Stockholm, then turned back because its weather radar was faulty, landed again in Amsterdam, then tried again. I was fairly sure I'd missed the last bus that would get to Herräng that day. Waiting at the bus stop were three Koreans, who were on their way to Herräng, and had decided to take the bus because of what they had read on my web-site! We consulted the time tables, and it seemed that there was still a bus that would get us there. Phew.
Herräng was damp. It had been raining a lot in the first two weeks. The mosquitoes weren't too bad, though. I pitched my tent in my usual spot. I didn't get a single peg to go more than half way in. Every one hit a stone.
Week 2 Cabaret
I was in time to watch the cabaret. I sat on a seat behind Minna Zetterman and watched as Peter Strom compèred the show, and he did I thought a pretty decent job of it. The stand-out act involved a guy sitting on a chair playing a guitar ("That's my brother!" said Minna) and Hanna Zetterman of the Hotshots singing a song about a hero. The song was slow, and she sang well enough and for long enough for us to stop expecting it to turn into a joke, at which point, it turned into a joke. On came Mattias of the Hotshots wearing a dressing gown, out of which he stripped to reveal ostentatious underpants, in which he then leaped and cavorted in a faintly balletic and yet heroic way, until finally coming to rest, lying on the stage (or as most people at the camp would put it wrongly: "laying on the stage") with his hand outstretched to the audience, and his lank locks dripping testosterone down his face. The crowd cheered wildly.
Friday Week 2: Old Folks' Home Party
My costume for this was little more than wrinkles drawn on my face, and a walking stick. Apparently, I looked like Dr House from the TV series House. That's probably because Hugh Laurie and I share a common number of noses. More noteworthy costumes were worn by Peter Loggins, whose enormous outsize shoes, loo roll caught in his trousers, vile colostomy bag, and oft-used whoopee cushion made him quite entertainingly disgusting; and Mark Kihara, who had upwards-pointing fan and camera attached to his shoes, a lollipop tied to a string which could be pulled through his fly zip tag, and after that it got more unseemly still.
I confess I can't recall much of what happened that night. I recall a race involving Zimmer frames. Sakarias played the part of an old man giving out advice to the young 'uns. Silvia Sykes castigated passers-by on their wrong youthful ways. Several people spent a lot of time on a large jig-saw puzzle, half of which was featureless sky.
One of the first things I noticed this year at the camp was that they now had a full-time security guard. I was sure that there were things the guard could do usefully about the place, but was saddened to see that it had come to this. That the camp feels that it now needs a guard is a sign that the days of old are passed. My first few encounters with the guard were not happy. She wasn't rude, exactly, but it rubs me up the wrong way to be talked to in that politely firm manner that they have.
As it turned out, she was something of a character. Here we see her motorcycle. I think we can call it that, even though it dwarfs many cars.
Here we see her on the right with her 'friend', a sound technician. I think that they are trying to look menacing, but the effect for me is spoiled by the drinks on their laps. I know that if I said something rude and legged it, that they'd have to stop to put their drinks down before giving chase.
She lost her sunglasses. A collection was made to buy her a new pair. I contributed a few coins that I had in my back pocket when asked. At the evening meeting, she was presented with about 1,150 SEK (£100) on the condition that she used it to throw a party for the contributors should the glasses be found. "I didn't know that there were 1,150 people at the camp" she quipped. Before the meeting was over, they were found (she said she decided not to investigate how they came to be found where they were). "Party!" I cried. On the Friday night, behind the Folketshus, there was a taped-off area reserved for people on the list of contributors. I got my money's worth.
The sign saying that the Folketshus was licensed for a maximum of 150 people was covered over with a bit of paper. Apparently there are rules against removing or altering the signs. The security guard told me that it was her idea to have this big tent (above) outside the dansbanan with shelving units for somewhere to leave baggage.
No, stop rubbing your eyes, this really is a fire-extinguisher in one of the classroom tents. These were standing by in case a dancer caught alight.
There was a nasty incident on camp this year. A caravan and several tents at the camping site near the football ground were wrecked by a rampaging car. Witnesses gave information after requests were made by Daniel Heedman at the evening meetings. I'm informed that the culprits were discovered, but that there was insufficient evidence for a police prosecution. Instead, the parents of the youngsters responsible were telephoned and advised not to lend their car again to their offspring.
This was not for me the happy experience of last year. Things went a bit awry. I was told that they planned to do it again, and I wondered if this was a good idea. Perhaps it would have been better to leave it as a thing that happened in 2007, and do something else instead. There are other genres of theatre.
But I was asked if I would be in it, and it is always nice to be asked. I came up with an idea for a character to play: an evil hypnotist. With a mesmeric stare and words of curious power I could bend people to my will, and perhaps act as a starting point for other people's acts. The producer of the show liked this idea so much she decided to make me the Master of Ceremonies (MC) for the show. Alarm bells started to ring in my head, but I did not heed them.
Time passed, and I heard little about of what the show would consist, or even of when it might happen. Then there was a rush to get everything together. It's true that last year I did an act that I had never done before, that required working with the other artists, and I never once rehearsed any of it, and we were fine. This year, though, I didn't feel that confidence that comes from trusting those around me. Last year I was joining a show that already had a momentum to it. This year, this was to be the first show, and there was a mood of ignorance and panic. No one knew what the acts were, and the venue, the Green Room or Love Box still needed decorating and furnishing. We put up a tent for the changing room, and sorted as best we could through the stuff in the venue – some of it was precious stuff belonging to the producer, some of it was junk; and telling the difference in a hurry and in the dim lighting wasn't easy.
All the booze that had been collected in the venue, to be used in the show, was removed. This annoyed the producer, who, with an hour to go before the first show of the three or four planned, left, saying that she would be back in ten minutes. In the next fifty minutes of her absence, we tried to furnish and decorate the venue, but no one knew who was supposed to do what or with what. The security people forbade us to use candles, which just meant that the two electric ceiling lights would have to light the show, and we went to some lengths to dim and colour these appropriately. I was supposed to MC the show, despite having no idea what the show was.
The audience came in. There were FAR too many of them, and all the seats were crammed with bottoms, and the whole floor was taken up too, leaving almost no space for the actual performing. It was very warm in there, and was going to get a lot warmer.
I started with my hypnotising-the-audience routine. I made a mistake that I've made before. I got the pacing wrong. Real hypnotism cannot be rushed, and it can take time to relax everyone enough for it to work. However, since this was unlikely to be real hypnotism, it wasn't a great idea to spend ages on it either, because people would be wanting to see the acts. I went through the routine, but rushed it, so it was too long and wordy for a quick introduction, and too short for any chance of actually working or seeming real. I told people that their hands were stuck together, and that the more they tried to part them, the harder they'd find it. I then picked out the first cast member, as listed as item one on the running order. The big snag was, she was a member of the Harlem Hotshots, and known to the real audience members (who included other Hotshots), so it was very unlikely that anyone would be fooled even for an instant. Still, I went through the routine of hypnotising her, and then she went into her song.
Time, mercifully enough, passed, and the show made it to the finale. I tried to get the audience to sing the song, hoping that it would know the words and could be cajoled into joining in. The producer stepped forth to sing, and managed to forget absolutely all of the words this time. To help her out, I tried prompting her. "Didn't you once know a girl called Elsie?" I asked. Her eyes wide and bright with recognition for a moment, she sang "Elsie" and glazed over again. I sang a verse I knew, in the vain hope that she would be inspired to pick up the song from there, but it was hopeless. I took her in my arms, and as the music continued, I rounded off the show by thanking the witnesses of the disaster for coming, and telling them that none of the hypnotic techniques they had witnessed would have any effect on them after the show, and just generally hinting that I like them to leave now.
I was in no mood to continue. Indeed I was amazed that anybody was. The voodoo dancer fled. The new gorilla girl was in my camp, but others were preparing for the next show. All the tickets for the next show had sold, so we were going to need a good reason to stop the show. It was decided that technical difficulties would be our excuse – the CD player wasn't working. Our male stripper said that he knew where there was a working CD player and that he could run and get it. I thanked him, and after some effort managed to dissuade him from this course of action. Someone went and got cash from the Bar Bedlam to give people their money back. We invited the people in the queue inside, gave them a glass of wine, and it seemed that they then went on to have a great time partying in the venue for some while.
I, meanwhile, had a drunken producer to deal with. She had now progressed to a new stage: the falling-down-a-lot-and-swearing-in-Swedish stage. It was a mystery to me how she had become so much more drunk than before, but it seems that she had been drinking during the shows, and now the pressure of performance was off she could change mode. Perhaps she was playing drunker than she really was, because this was a way of not having to deal with the situation. I had to keep catching her and dragging her away from the venue. We tried to drive her home, but no one could find her house keys, and we were not sure how good an idea this would be anyway. Eventually, at the security guard's suggestion, I dragged her from the car and with help carried her to an outdoor hammock and put her in it with some blankets. She quickly fell asleep, and for the rest of the night and sunny morning I checked on her and was convinced that she was breathing.
Tuesday Week 3, Blues Night
How I miss the blues nights of years ago - long, dark, sexy, moody, and surreal. These days they don't work so hard on maintaining the atmosphere. Fans and air conditioners whirr away. They leave sunlight to stream in and light up the floor. Worst of all, they play completely monotonous music all night. Almost everyone seemed to complain about it. The music never gave anyone an excuse to do a few fast swirling movements, to be ended with a sudden halt and hold, nor did it ever tell anyone to hug their partner close. Instead, it plodded away all night, hissing and scratching with period authenticity, at a middling-slow pace, with middling effect. Ellington's The Mooche is a fair enough number, but did I have to dance to it four times in the first couple of hours?
Blues night used to be a highlight of my time at Herräng. I am sure that I am far from alone in mourning the passing of the good blues nights there. They seem firmly set in their current policy of only playing music from late September 1926 to early March 1933, recorded using steel needles and bits of string. Until they change this, Herräng blues nights will be so-so at best.
God, she's young
An oddity of Herräng is apparently being treated as a peer by folk of different ages. We are there to do a shared thing – dancing – and I think this has a levelling effect socially too. By and large, this is a nice thing. In fact, it probably is a nice thing in total. I did, though, find myself wondering what the rules for conduct were in certain extreme situations. I'd never want to think that I was the bad guy. I could be the bad guy by not treating a lady as she would wish to be treated, but society frowns on people who treat young girls as they want to be treated, because society believes that such youngsters don't know what's good for them. Then again, society is also jealous of youth.
I saw a girl across the room, with whom no one was dancing. Naturally, I went across and in my silly way asked her to dance, she accepted, and then I noticed how young she seemed. Had I just behaved inappropriately with a twelve year-old? After our first dance, I asked her where she was from, and this turned out to my relief to be somewhere in the USA. No twelve year-old American would be dancing at five in the morning at Herräng. I was later told that she was fifteen. Some may say that this was no place for someone so young, but actually I suspect that she could hardly have been safer. Lindy hoppers are by and large a civilised lot.
My ability to tell people's ages is not finely honed. Most of the time, it doesn't enter my head to guess. I was rowing on the lake with three young ladies, chatting away. Had I been asked, I suppose I'd have guessed them to be of student age (19-22ish). I was surprised to learn that one was fifteen.
The closest dance I had on blues night was with an Eastern European girl of unsettlingly young and uncertain age. Perhaps she was old enough to vote, marry, own a tank, and run a vodka distillery, but possibly she was below this age. I did nothing to draw her close to me. She got in there under her own steam. It seemed churlish to push her away, and there was no dignified and subtle way to do this, given that she was stuck to me like cling-film. I finished our two dances, said thank you, and moved on.
Gate engineering project
During my stay, there was a fascinating project to create an improved gate at Passport Control. I spent a while helping with one of the earlier prototypes, but afterwards took the role of a mere observer and commentator. I was always demanding more bells and whistles. Perhaps to fend off the hordes of people like me who were contributing suggestions, they put a blackboard out for people to vent their enthusiasm for design without disturbing the workers.
Misc. Part I
A branch of Starbucks was simulated outside the ice cream parlour, and true to the original, sold outrageously expensive coffee. The coffee was sourced from the cafe behind, which sold much cheaper beverages. So far as I know, the difference went to charity.
I self-catered most of the time. I lived for a long time on the food I brought with me. I was amazed at how long ham and cheese lasted outside a fridge and inside my hot tent. I chose this yoghurt from the Kuggen shop because of this astonishing picture on the pot. Rather than looking like a tempting fruity treat, to me this looks as though someone has smashed a hole through the pot with a hammer, to reveal an evil rotting core.
Very much like her absent brother Joseph (apart from the breasts), Josette Wiggan was at the camp to teach tap. She did some amazing demonstrations, sometimes solo, sometimes duet, sometimes with a live band. Just like her brother, she could be relied upon to step up and perform an improvised routine. Just like him, she was delightfully polite, happy, and without lofty airs and graces. Also like him, she had never Lindy hopped, and started learning at the camp. I danced with her one evening after she had been Lindying for a couple of days. She was an absolute delight of a partner. She was very talented and picking it up fast, but better than that she was having so much fun. Whether I led something she especially liked, or we went amusingly wrong, she decorated the moment with her musical laughter.
Wednesday/Thursday Week 3: Wedding present failure
Henric and Joanna were to be married on the Saturday at the end of the camp. I was surprised to learn that nothing was being done to organise anything from the camp to honour this event, so took it upon myself to do so. At one of the evening meetings, when the couple was absent, I got up on stage and asked people to volunteer to be videoed forming the word GRATTIS ('congratulations' in Swedish – picked partly because it is a lot shorter than the English) outside the Folketshus. I would get everything ready. Picking a time that suited everyone was going to be tricky, so I just said one o'clock, thinking that this would be easy to remember at least.
This was a responsibility. I had to be very sure that I was ready. I was going to be dancing all night as usual, so getting up in the morning, especially as my alarm clock had died, was not going to be easy. It preyed on my mind, so I ended up marking out the words from about three or four in the morning. I spent about three hours on it. Much of this time was spent making decisions. I did not know if I would get twelve people or two hundred, and had to be ready for both, and I had to be able to organise it quickly when the time came. It was to be shot from the roof of reception (up to which this year they had built a substantial wooden staircase). I got a load of paint pots from the Prop Shop and used them as markers. I'd place a load of them out, go up to the roof and see how they looked, and then trundle down again and move them. The roof wasn't very high, so the angle required massively distorting the letters get them to look right. Some people would have to lie down on the ground. I decided to ditch the GRATTIS plan, and instead mark out a big H on the left, a big J on the right, and a love heart in the centre. The H people could dance over and merge with the J people, and then everyone could form the heart. Corny, I know, but at least it was animated and simple.
David Vrensk joined me and helped out. Once I had everything where I wanted it, I got some playground chalk and marked out the positions with some simple symbols. I then went to breakfast at the Yum Yum and stuffed myself full. It was a beautiful sunny warm morning. David lent me an alarm clock, and I grabbed a couple of hours of sleep before rising to be ready in good time for one o'clock.
When I awoke, it was a little damp, but nothing too much to worry about. I made my way down to the Folketshus, and then Thor played one of his little jokes. There was almost no one about, because several classes at the camp combined were up in the Folketshus hall listening to Dawn Hampton's annual lecture on musicality. This would go on until 1.20 p.m. No one had mentioned this the day before. This gave me a bit more time to prepare myself, but it made no difference really. It rained. Not a little. It came down in stair-rods, it bucketed, lashed it, rained cats and dogs, deluged, blattered, drenched, and fair pissed-it down. I retreated to under the awning of reception to take these photographs. I had brought my camera with another purpose in mind. The camera did not capture the rain in mid-air, but the expression and attitude of the running man here tells you of the water-filled atmosphere. I didn't try swimming upwards, but it might have been possible.
I made a second attempt to do a present for Henric and Joanna: I wrote a speech congratulating them, and got lots of people to say just a couple of the words from it to camera. The idea was to edit these together into the full speech. Again, I wanted a present that could only come from lots of Lindy hoppers. I borrowed Bryant Gover's camera and off I went. However, there was a misunderstanding between Bryant and me which meant that the footage I shot would take an age for him to edit (technical, to do with HD formatting dropped down to low-res images, and the way I framed the shots with a wobbly hand-held camera), so I don't know if any of the shots I got were used in the end. Bryant picked up the fallen baton, though, and shot a load more footage, still using my words I think, and edited it in time to go to the wedding (but not to be shown in an evening meeting at the camp). Well done Bryant, thought I. Alas, I later learned from Hasse that for some irritating reason, the DVD player they had at the wedding wouldn't play the disc.
Next time, I'll just send a card.
Most years, I write disparaging remarks about my own dancing, and then I wonder why I don't get booked more as a teacher. Presumably other teachers are completely confident that their dancing is great in every way, or else they keep their doubts to themselves. I can dance. I may not be on top form all the time, but when I'm on form I can dance well enough to entertain the best of partners. I'm as musical as anyone, know enough moves to do the job, and my lead is clear. I don't think though, that I can improve much without a good regular partner for practicing the extra-flash stuff.
Not everyone is a fan of my dancing. One lady I tried to ask for a dance actually hurried away from me. When I gave chase, she broke into a run, ran down the stairs and shut herself in the ladies' loos, and even held the door shut. How do I know that she held the door shut? Because the door opened outwards, and when I opened it, out she came, still holding he handle. She let go, and ran into one of the cubicles. It occurred to me to follow, but I cut my losses there.
Then again, after a couple of blues dances with another lady, at whose views on dancing one would be unwise to sniff, she said that she thought that I was the best blues dancer in Herräng. She did, honest. So there.
This year for the first time, I didn't take a course of lessons. I couldn't afford to, although it's difficult to say whether I'd have taken a course even if I had had the money. I've not learned a huge amount in the last couple of years. I'm not saying that the lessons have been bad, particularly, it's just that there is an inevitable diminishment of returns after so many years doing Lindy. Also, I was trying to make the trip more like a holiday and less like a training course. Also, I might possibly dance better in the evenings if I could sleep late in the mornings. Also, people who see other people taking lessons then mentally put them in the "pupil" box, and never book them as teachers. Oddly enough, this year I was booked for my first ever Herräng private lesson, so perhaps this worked. Dance teachers have to learn by stealth, and only take lessons from each other when no one else is looking, or else they just let their dance stagnate.
I must have danced a fair bit some nights, because more than once I danced until my blue gel insoles came out of my shoes. Here we see them on their way out. Once one actually flew across the room.
Another thing that proper teachers do is cultivate an aloofness which to me seems to run counter to what social swing dance is all about. They almost never dance with beginners, or in the case of the Harlem Hotshots, with any of the customers at all. During one evening meeting, I used a question about whether there was a Lindy heaven to launch into a bit of a rant about dancing with beginners. I ended up with the words "...so yes, there is a Lindy hop heaven. Nice people get to go there, and nice people dance with beginners." This got quite a cheer from the floor, and no answer I gave provoked so many positive comments afterwards. In a disgruntled mood, I considered getting a T-shirt made with "You can't take my dancing seriously" on the front, and "... because I dance with beginners" on the back.
I do dance with beginners. I also almost never refuse a dance if asked, and if I do I always have a good reason. One effect of this policy was that sometimes I found it tricky to get off the floor. I'd be dancing with one lady, we'd finish, and I would try to rest my weary bones, but before I'd make it to the door someone would pop up wanting a dance. I'd rather things be this way than any of the alternatives. Sometimes I did walk with a determined stride to make it clear that I was trying to leave the floor entirely. I think that's fair – I have to rest at some point, and I was avoiding dancing with everyone this way, not just beginners.
When I first went to Herräng, I didn't much like the two-dance rule. This is a social norm in Scandinavian countries which requires a dancer for the sake of politeness to dance two dances with every partner. As the years went by, I was gradually won over by this rule, but now I can report that I have gone right off it. It doesn't strike me as polite to be dancing a second dance when both people know that it is compulsory. An army officer doesn't think "Gosh, isn't Private Atkins polite!" when Atkins calls him "Sir", because this is a requirement. I also don't think it takes two dances to adapt to my partner's style. It is quite tiring to have to dance two numbers every time, and energy is precious. It was also annoying when I got out-of-synch with someone I wanted to dance with. She'd be in her second dance with a partner when I'd be having my first dance with mine. By the time I'd escaped from my partner, she'd be half-way through dancing with someone else. To get a dance with her, I'd have to wait out a track, wasting good dancing time, or more likely during that wait I'd be asked to dance, and then I'd still be out-of-synch.
Far and away my biggest objection to the two-dance rule, though, is that it means that I can only dance with half as many people. At a typical event in Britain, I can dance with every woman there, and I very often manage this. At a very small event, the two-dance rule might still allow this. At Herräng, even without the rule I couldn't dance with everyone there, but with it, I have to go to bed every morning having missed out on so many partners. At such a big camp, they should do all they can to make sure that lots of people get lots of dances. People who are reluctant to dance with beginners are twice as reluctant with the two-dance rule. Asking someone you are not sure of becomes twice as risky. Without this rule, if you want to dance a second, you still can, and it will actually mean something.
Thursday Week 3: Jeff Vader
I had no plan for anything for the main Thursday night cabaret this year. Stephen Salinger from London had been watching videos on YouTube with Dax Hock and had decided that it would be a great idea for us to do an Eddie Izzard sketch (see it here animated with Lego). This would involve my playing Darth Vader. Little more was said on the subject, although Stephen did get a transcript of the sketch from the net.
Feeling as tired as an unusually tired thing's tiredest tired bit, I started making a Darth Vader mask out of cardboard, in the Prop Shop. I had a stroke of luck in that someone was able to lend me a pair of sunglasses superbly suited to Darth's mask. The hours went by. I had nothing else to do. I painted it black. The world about me was jungle-like, as the curiously-hot Swedish summer sun hit the rain-drenched camp and turned everything to steam. It's not often I use three hyphens in one sentence.
I found black curtains for a cape, and had another stroke of luck in that I found someone with black motorcyclists' gauntlets that were great for the costume. I then visited Stephen, and I suppose by turning up with half-decent costume, spurred him into action.
Even by my standards, this one was put together late. Dax dropped out of the cast, and so we had to find someone to play the third character. I ended up recruiting Adam Lee (from the USA/China, so his team is going to do awfully well in the Olympics) from the queue to get in to the cabaret. "Do you want to be in a comedy sketch?" I asked. "Do you mean I get to watch the show from the bar downstairs instead of from up there?" he replied. "Yes". This was all the persuading he took. I took him through to the bar, gave him a script, and we rehearsed our sketch as the show was starting. There's no point in wasting time.
This was an unusual cabaret in that they didn't have enough acts to fill the show, so they screened some video clips of acts from the old days, and Simon Selmon, the MC, did a fair bit of talking to the audience, and at one point even asked if anyone wanted to come up and do an act (a break-dancer did). A couple of musical acts were marred by microphone problems.
Okay, I concede that in this photograph, the costume doesn't look that impressive, but (a) cameras lie, and (b) people can forgive a lot when they can see you've had to improvise.
I was amazed by how many people knew the sketch. Someone even claimed to have recognised it just by seeing someone standing gormlessly behind a counter with some trays on it as the curtain opened. After a pause, I walked on, and just this got a laugh. I got another laugh by standing there for a while doing nothing, and then by doing a bit of loud breathing. As I did this, I heard the voice of a young boy in the audience imploring me to speak. From that point on I was very conscious of the number of times the work fuck featured in the sketch.
I had made a holder for a heavy, normally hand-held microphone, which I built into my helmet to leave my hands free. I had remembered how much my 2005 performance had been hampered by having to hold a microphone in one hand. The sensitive end of the mic was right next to my mouth, and I had asked the sound technician to crank up the bass. My James Earl Jones impression boomed out of the speakers to such effect that some people reported thinking that we were using fancy voice boxes or even recordings. We got the laughs we wanted, and got off. The nicest round of applause we got was down in the bar downstairs afterwards from the other performers (this is a double-edged sword – it's horrid to get back down there after one's act and get nothing but people's avoiding your eye). I got back into costume for the shim sham at the end, although Darth Vader shim shamming was not what the audience was looking at – all eyes were on a girl in the middle at the front who had an enormously padded bottom.
You probably won't see my performance on video, and nor will I. This is because they have banned the use of cameras during the cabaret shows. I can see both sides of this argument. On the one hand, it is a bit of a disappointment not to be able to share and recall a performance (most of which are one-offs) through the medium of video, and some people might even decide against doing an act if it cannot be recorded. Then again, as a performer I'll say that a sea of faces watching me perform and laughing when things are funny is preferable to a lot of half-hidden faces frowning with concentration on little glowing view-screens, presenting me with rows of vacant circular artificial eyes, and many people being careful not to laugh because it would spoil the soundtracks of their recordings. It had got silly at the camp – too many people attending a live event were not watching it live, and some inconsiderate people were posting things onto YouTube without permission. An outright ban is too heavy handed, though. Some say that there are issues of copyright jealousy as well, but I'd say that that's a minor factor.
First good dance night
As has happened a few times before, I had a particularly good night's dancing on the Thursday after the cabaret. Until this time, I had been wondering why I bothered dancing. I had had some dances that were good, in that I had put a load of fancy moves together and outwardly I dare say that I was doing all right. It was all leaving me cold, however. I was going through the motions, using a skill that I had learned. Almost all of the moves I danced I had danced a thousand times before. Sometimes I analysed the situation I was in and thought that it couldn't, surely, be all that bad to be dancing with a beautiful young woman on a smooth dance floor to some swinging jazz. Though this might give me a slight temporary lift, my general mood was not one of elation. What was the point of all this dancing? It never led to anything.
Then a particular lady who probably knows who she is, showed up at the camp. We had a dance, and then four more. Perhaps there was pleasure to be had from dancing after all. After that, my dancing changed for the rest of the night, and I started to enjoy it. I probably smiled more. I was more creative, and I think my partners liked dancing with me more. Whereas before I was dancing because I felt I ought to bother, having travelled so far, now I was dancing because I wanted to. An amazing turn-around.
Alas, this didn't last. I had had two hours of sleep in the last forty-six hours, and this may have weakened my defences a bit. I was exhausted, and now came down with a cold. It is normal to get a cold at Herräng, but others I have had have been milder. I had a headache and felt generally bleargh, which meant I had no chance of enjoying dancing. Besides, I was probably infectious, so it wouldn't be very fair on my partners to dance. I lost two days of dancing to the cold. For the rest of the trip, the cold was just a mild annoyance. As I write this, I am still coughing a little bit. I was lucky that a Brit on her way over brought some Solpadeine tablets with her. The drugs they had in the Kuggen shop were feeble things, and kept in a locked cabinet. Foolishly, I hadn't brought with me anything strong enough to dent the headache I had.
This year, I became a regular fixture in the evening meetings. Gunnar, who helps produce the meetings, asked me shortly after I arrived whether I'd be up for being on a 'panel of experts' who would answer questions asked of them in the meetings. Not quite sure what I might be letting myself in for, I said a hesitant yes. A couple of days later, I saw Lennart notice me in the audience, and thought that I might be called up, but the meeting was going on for a long time, and when the usual hour was up, I thought that this was a false alarm, but the meeting carried on, and Lennart said that he wanted to call some people up to the stage, and I saw him pretend to look around and decide whom to call. Simon Selmon was also called, and then we picked from the audience a third panel member.
The questions were asked, and we fielded them as best we could. Fortunately, I always managed to come up with a couple of answers that the audience liked, and it seemed to forget or forgive my rubbish answers. So was set the format, which lasted all of Week 3. Getting a regular third panel member proved tricky. For a few nights, a volunteer was asked to step forward. Unsurprisingly, these were all male, and some voices cried out demands from the audience that the third member be a woman. Personally, I found this annoying. I just wanted the best panellist with whom I could work, and who would entertain the audience, so unless it were demonstrably true that women made better panellists, I wanted this rule dropped. Besides, we were meant to be experts, not representatives of the demographics of the audience. Simon and I were both male, both tall, both British, both dazzlingly intelligent (ahem), and both dance teachers, so unless there was a short stupid foreign woman who couldn't dance who wanted to step up because (and probably only because) she filled this demographic niche, we still wouldn't be a representative sample of humanity. Who wants to answer questions 'as a woman'? No one ever asks me 'As a man, could you tell me the time?'
The audience was invited to contribute questions, written and posted into a box in the foyer, for future meetings. For a few meetings Åsa Palm of the Harlem Hotshots was the third panellist, but she left. Now, some of you may be wondering just how improvised the whole business was. Well, I can honestly say that there were evenings when I had no particular reason to think that I was going to be called up again, and had absolutely no idea what I was going to be asked. I do know, though, that the bad/dull questions were filtered out, and that Lennart only had a small selection of the best questions to pick from. Some nights I went into the Folketshus before the meeting and got to look at some of the questions that might come up, and a couple of times I talked to Simon about how we might answer. However, there was never any way of knowing what other panellists would say, or what exactly would be asked. It was mostly improvised.
Here we see the panel of experts somewhere in the middle of Week 3. We haven't yet been given our jackets and ties to change into. This photograph is courtesy of Bobby Bonsey (on the left), who stepped up bravely as third panellist. There were never enough mics for all three members and Lennart.
Working with Lennart was the easiest part of the job, as he was a very reliable comedy sparring partner. One of my first answers involved my talking at high speed and great length while I tried to think of an answer. The next night, Lennart seemed disappointed that the panel hadn't come up with much of an answer to one question, and I asked "Would you like me to talk at great length about it?" With many other people, saying this would have been quite a risk, but Lennart immediately took the hint and feed line I was giving him, and got a great laugh by moving swiftly on to the next question.
The panel lasted all of Week 3, and then I thought that it had probably run its course, but they kept calling me up all though Week 4 as well. I wasn't sure that the format was all that great. We didn't always get great questions, and everything took too long. Part of the reason I often talked so fast was that I didn't think the item was worth spending a lot of time on. Also, I happen to talk quite fast. For the last meeting of Week 4, Simon was away at the teachers' crayfish party, and I ended up doing the item just as a two-hander with Lennart, which perhaps made the format a bit quicker and neater. For one thing it meant that both people had a microphone all the time, and there wasn't the usual awkward moment of looking around to see who wanted to go first. I must have done all right, because I got a cheer at the end.
Daniel Heedman made various announcements as one of the camp's main organisers in the language spoken only by the Harlem Hotshots – a version of English more accented and broken than any other spoken by Swedes of their age. Several What Would Daniel He-Man Do? videos were made with him as a superhero icon at the start and finish, with usual missing shirt and slicked-back ultra-blond hair, and various people emulating him: training ninjas to deal with rowdy intruders to the camp; hammering a plank of wood into paper for the loos; and in a particularly disgusting episode, saving water by sharing it mouth-to-mouth while rinsing off toothpaste.
One noteworthy act was Frida and Fatima of the Hotshots standing in front of the curtain, miming to opera singing. The crowd loved it when Stephen Mitchell surprised us by joining in, singing live from the teachers' bench. Frida and Fatima sang until they died operatic deaths, at which point the curtain parted to reveal two singers behind it and their microphones. I admit it hadn't occurred to me that the music wasn't a recording. Genuinely impressive singing.
One evening, they brought some little dogs on to taste the various flavours of ice cream on offer in the ice cream parlour. I was close to leaping on stage and scooping up one dog when it was licking away enthusiastically on the triple-chocolate flavour sample. Doesn't everyone know that chocolate is highly toxic to dogs? 32 grams of plain chocolate can kill an adult Jack Russell. So far as I know, the pooch lived. Perhaps there was no real chocolate in the triple-chocolate flavour ice cream. If so, they may have given away more than they wished by this display.
Peter Loggins, each day in a different dapper period outfit, demonstrated with his partner Mia various other swing dances of the day. Most of these were simple, and with some it was quite easy to see why they died out. He didn't, as he had said he would in the comments to my video on YouTube, demonstrate the bunny hop.
I had been told before going to Herräng that this was to be Lennart's last time there hosting the meetings. I had braced myself for several compulsory standing ovations. It turned out to be untrue, however. I spoke to Lennart after the camp, and he said that he wished that he could do the meetings in Swedish, because he could do so much better. He certainly does fine in English. He also said that his performances peaked about ten years ago. I saw him first in 1999, and I'd say that he hasn't lost it. Perhaps what really peaked ten years ago was his enjoyment of the meetings. There aren't many people who have had to host so many shows over so many years, especially not using their mother tongue.
FRIDAY WEEK 3: NEW AGE PARTY
Months before the camp, I received a bulletin e-mail asking for people to apply for the job of organising the Friday night parties. Thinking that it might motivate me to go to Herräng (and offset some of the cost) I applied, but was turned down for the odd reason that I had not got back to them to confirm that I wanted the job. This was a strange mix-up, given that not only had I written back to them straight away asking for my name to be put forward, but they had even replied to this e-mail, so they must have received it. Anyway, Lorenz Ilg was organising this party. I volunteered to play a part, and came up with my own character.
Now you may wonder what role I could bear to play, from a menu of abominable charlatans peddling such evils as homeopathy, reflexology, and crystal nonsense. Well, I asked for a stall to be made for me, with sign saying "Empirical Placebos Ltd." And lo and behold – it was done.
Here we see me at my stall. I do not look like a great advert for my products. I was feeling very ill at the time. In front of me are my products. With these as my props, I quickly developed my patter:
"Have you been drinking enough water sir? Are you dangerously dehydrated? From the look of you I'd say not, so perhaps you'd like to consider this: a rehydration pack for people who are not dehydrated. Guaranteed safe and of no medicinal use whatever."
"Perhaps you like your placebos in pill form? If so, then I have here a range of small coloured placebos for people who have particular associations with colours. Perhaps sir you see red as a powerful and dynamic colour, and would imagine a red pill to be stronger in effect than other colours, in which case you should pick the red ones. Other customers prefer the more soothing look of the pale yellow ones, while other associate green with freshness, hygiene, and herbs... "
"Now THAT, sir, is the most powerful placebo known to Man. Just look at the size of it. Clearly no one would make a pill so big unless the size were necessary to pack in all the ingredients. See how it is a clinical pure white? And yet, despite all this, I can personally guarantee that it has been tested for its effectiveness on over a thousand diseases and can categorically state that it has proven one hundred percent ineffective against all of them. Do not, sir, believe the claims made by my rivals here, or buy their dangerous and untested placebos. At Empirical Placebos we pride ourselves that our customers know exactly what they are getting... "
"The Red Cross, madam – I imagine you associate it with medical competence and expertise. Do you see what we have done here? This is white cross on a red background. That's the Swiss flag – of no medical significance whatever."
"Notice the colour of this bandage? You may think that we have steeped it some effective concoction of bark for some marvellous natural remedy. Not a bit of it. All we've done is dye it brown. We did find in tests that if people wrapped it too tightly on injuries, then the sheer pressure did have some effect, but if you keep it nice and loose you should find that it has no medical effect at all."
"A stethoscope, madam - symbol of trained doctors who know what they are doing. This one you'll notice, though, has no diaphragm and is no diagnostic use, but when placed around the neck of a man with a reassuring voice and white coat it has a significant psychosomatic effect."
"Perhaps you are a man impressed by numbers and scientific measurement? You could benefit from this little gadget here. See what happens when I squeeze this bulb? The little dial goes round and round? That's it. It does nothing else at all. The numbers could mean anything. Pick your own unit. The beauty of this one is that I can place it anywhere on your body for a targeted localised effect. See your shoulder here is registering one hundred a thirty? Does it feel any different? Yes? No? The power of the placebo, sir!"
One Russian lad took several large handfuls of my small coloured pills, claiming with a grin that they were for a friend. It weakened my argument that he should take so many that I had loudly boasted that it was impossible to overdose on my placebos. I kept the act up for an hour or so, then went inside as darkness fell.
Inside, at midnight, there was a ballet on stage. The girl with the astonishing hour-glass figure was from Oregon. Others were Swedes, Czechs, Swiss. It is amazing that people from so many places, speaking so many tongues, can so quickly get together and produce such complicated works of collaboration. There is a universal language and understanding at Lindy hop camps that makes this possible. It's called English.
I don't pretend to have understood it, but by Crikey it was Art. They had a huge sheet of paper across the stage through which the dancers tore their way one at a time. Each did a solo, then they all moved around a bit signifying something terribly significant I'm sure. Next, they started smearing the paper with paint, then each other with paint, symbolic of er... painting.
Last, still dripping paint, they set off into the audience, which parted like the Red Sea to let them through.
I didn't dance this night, I was too ill, so I went to bed, after wandering about a bit wishing that I felt better.
Misc. Part II
The Carling Family Band played at the camp again. At first I danced to them in the dansbanan because it was so much less crowded and humid down there, but some of the music seemed odd, and would probably have made more sense if I could have seen what was going on upstairs. When I went upstairs I saw Josette tapping with them, and Dawn Hampton came up and said something to their pianist, and then started to whistle into a microphone. It seemed at first an unsteady and uncertain whistle, and for a long time I wondered where it was all going, but then it turned into a version of Stardust and it is great to see a good jazz band able to cope with such things, and join in when needed, adding to the performance, and going quiet to let the soloist shine.
The next night the Carling Big Band played, and for me this was a great, the music being much better for Lindy hopping than their smaller band's. The highlight was perhaps when the three trombonists came down into the centre of the hall and held the floor on their own. I was right at the front, taking it all in. Had I been down in the dansbanan hearing the same music, I might not have liked it so much.
Things that make perfect sense if you hear them said in Herräng, number fourteen: "I haven't slept since yesterday yet" (Jeremy P. Lawrence).
Daniel Heedman and Åsa Palm of the Harlem Hotshots got engaged. There was a little 'secret' ceremony in the Love Box, and I was told of it the next day when I remarked on a scattering of rice outside. When this was brought up in an evening meeting, Åsa seemed not to want it discussed, but if secrecy were really a priority, I'm sure that they would have picked another time and place. Getting a laugh from the English-speakers in the audience that he didn't fully understand, Lennart said "...Love Box... that's where they engaged".
Photograph showing the view from my tent. It's a marvel that people aren't forever tripping over guy-ropes as they weave between the canvas. With all this clean outdoor living, I was surprised to notice that my bogeys were consistently black. Possibly it was dust from the dance floor that did this.
The demographic of the camp has certainly changed. There has been quite a shift eastwards. The Lithuanians were there in youthful force. Others from eastern Europe well also well-represented. There were fewer Finns and Americans. One explanation given me for the lack of Finns was the presence of so many Russians. A couple of Americans told me that the reason Team America was so weak was that the camp had gained a reputation for playing bad music. The easterners certainly seemed to be making the most of their massive discounts at the camp – attending more weeks than most westerners could afford, and spending on all the extras, and asking me if I too was going to go to various other foreign camps like them. I certainly do not get the impression that the Russians there are examples of poor Russians. This year I had to use up savings to get to the camp at all.
The local motorcycle speedway fans were doubtless somewhat bemused to see a load of foreign Lindy hoppers turn up to one of their meetings, and perform in the centre of the race course. Mark Kihara's voice boomed around the ground in English, introducing the various acts. He added for the camera at the end of the video that was made about this: "What are we doing here?"
There are two contrasting points of view on the subject of sex at Herräng. One is that almost none happens, and the other is that loads happens. The latter is the minority view, and so far everyone who has expressed it to me has been female. If these women are right, then it must be that a very small number of men is having a huge amount of sex very discreetly. I doubt it. [One reader of this page has e-mailed me claiming to be one of the few.]
Herräng might be a good place to meet women. Unfortunately, they tend to be foreign women, who, while attractively exotic and all that, are inconveniently situated abroad for most of the time. They do not, therefore, make the best spouse material. I would not recommend the camp for those seeking short-term gratification either. Indeed, they may find it hellish – like being a kid locked in a sweet shop, only to discover that all the sweets are made of glass.
While at Herräng and single, trapped in the orchard of forbidden fruit, a chap might be forgiven for feeling that being there with a girlfriend might be a much better way to enjoy the camp. The pressure would be off. One would have an excuse for not trying. Then again, being there with a girlfriend could be worse – being contractually forbidden to be too nice to the other ladies there. I suppose that this one is a case of the other man's grass always being greener, for all but the most enviably content.
Being a bit of hit at Herräng can be quite a frustration. I don't want to hear a young attractive woman say that she thinks I'm great if... Don't get me wrong – I'm not going to say that there's nothing worse than young attractive women telling me that they think I'm great, because I'm sure there is. I can think of two things straight away: one is having both my legs sawn off very slowly with a blunt rusty saw, and the other is young attractive women telling me that they think I'm rubbish. I'm sure that both of these would be palpably worse.
A friend of mine once said that he didn't envy extremely rich people because they can only associate with other extremely rich people, rather limiting their pool of potential friends. Interestingly, the top high-flying international swing dance teachers all seem to keep to their own. Part of this may be the usual 7s-going-out-with-7s, and 4s-going-out-with-4s stuff, but also it may be that they can't bring themselves to have a boy/girlfriend who isn't also a suitable dance partner. A great (and great-looking) dance partner is a huge business asset, for one thing.
Saturday: Charity Dance
Beside the Kuggen shop, on the Saturday lunch time, they set up a small dance floor, and with a rather under-powered CD player, put on some entertainment for the locals. The event generated about 2,000 krona for a Sri Lankan charity. Though this had happened many years before, this was the first time I'd attended. The only dancing I did was a mass shim sham. One thing that I noticed was how amazingly bad the audience was at the basic task of clapping. It clapped the on-beat, and clapped it badly, even when there were dozens of swingers confidently and punctually clapping the off-beat for them to copy.
Here we see Russell and Caroline of the Jiving Lindy Hoppers doing a high-speed dance demonstration, and making it look comfortably slow. It was good to see these significant figures in the Lindy hop revival finally appearing at the camp. Fish (right) is recording for the camp video.
Calle (the kille) got up and did his usual "There's going to be some rock and roll tonight" routine. Josette Wiggan and Thomas Marek did an amazing (and very long) improvised tap duet.
The Geordies hit Toon
One reason I went to Herräng was that I knew that two of my protégés would be there. Yes, whereas in previous years I had always been the sole representative of the North East's greatest city, this year there were (wait for it – drum-roll please)... THREE of us. Here you see the trio photographed proudly outside the Folketshus. I, as usual, look as though I've been added in using Photoshop. "Do you look that out of place in any group photograph?" someone once asked me, upon seeing a photo' of me with some old schoolmates. It seems yes.
Anyway, the other two novocastrians seemed to have a pretty decent time, coping easily with the classes. Cat (two times president of the Newcastle University Swing Dance Society) auditioned for advanced, and spotted quickly that there were plenty of dancers there worse than she, but ended up doing intermediate-advanced classes. It seems that there was a bit of a mix-up, but she didn't seem to mind.
Stuff about camp
Reception had a new look this year, with a big set of steps you could sit upon outside, and a telephone booth with banana-shaped telephone (buy cards from the Kuggen). It could receive incoming calls, and Tim Collins from the USA/India had hours of fun ringing it on his mobile from not many yards away and doing prank calls. I answered it once, and he claimed to be a man stuck on the road from Hallstavik with some babies. I think I acquitted myself well, remaining polite, but not believing a word of it, and getting a few cynical remarks in before spotting Tim.
Photograph to illustrate the extraordinary proximity of thin-walled tents in which people try to sleep, and thin-walled marquees (big tents) in which people learn to tap dance to loud music in the morning.
They built this small stage near the boules court for anyone to use for whatever they liked. I never saw it used, so perhaps it won't be there next year.
New Vilnius, or as the locals called it: Vilnius Street. Here the Lithuanians set up camp. Would I want to go all the way to Sweden to live among Brits? Pros and cons, I suppose. The Lithuanians, though, are all from one city and see a lot of each other, and are of similar ages, so perhaps work better than other crowds as a community. I was summoned here to sing a song from my country. I shouted my way through Baggy Trousers by Madness and I think got away with it.
Label for the office behind the office behind the office.
This year the volunteers were issued with bright yellow (with a hint of green) T-shirts as a uniform. Always the light reflected up yellow onto their chins. In the early weeks, these uniforms were respected, but a spirit of devil-may-care came upon these people in the last week, perhaps because they knew (or believed) that no one would need the shirts after them, and so a great amount of customising took place. Here you see the uniforms in their primal state.
I saw someone working on a logo for the front of the shirts of the tech team (sound and light operation - an elite squad proud to dissociate itself from the common T-shirted herd) dismantling the camp. They had been experimenting with the image of a mushroom cloud, and had the words "crash down". I suggested various modifications and designed this as a military-style arm patch, with the words "strike team" (I also suggested the even-more-military "strike force"). Here we see Renee Dimond from the USA modelling the first off the production line.
Staggeringly, the camp still manages with no extra loos having been built. Presumably, people sweat so much that they don't need to pee as much as usual. I was told last year that they were going to build an extra block with sinks along the outside of it. Here it is, and yes, it has (drum roll...) TWO sinks on it. The inside was used for folding laundry. I don't know why the laundry service put such emphasis on drying and folding. Inside there, they had a list of all the people at the camp they knew to be single. I was on it.
I photographed this, because I liked the simple amateurish nature of it. It is the permanent sign for the school at Herräng, which is called "Herräng School".
This year I taught four evening classes. Twice I taught ska, and twice five-beat swing. The first ska session was marred a bit when I found that the CD player wouldn't read the teaching CDs I had burned on my brand new super-fast DVD burner, so I had no authentic ska to play, and just had to use some swing/ska fusion tracks I had on an older disc. Even so, it went down well, and I had so many people in the class that a couple of times I had to tell half the class to stop dancing, to give the other half room. Word seems to have got around that ska is fun. I was told that the cheers had disturbed the other evening classes.
The five-beat swing classes were, to the best of my knowledge, the world's first. The first time I taught it, I had a rather mixed bag of pupils, including lots of beginners who struggled somewhat. They struggled gamely, though, almost all of them lasting to the end. Twice I did an exercise that involved identifying the one of the five-beat bar, and still by the end there were people who seemed not to hear it. I had perhaps wrongly imagined that people who hadn't cracked eight-beat and six-beat moves yet would recognise the level of difficulty in five-beat moves and stay away. I also realised during the class that I had to limit my ambition to just one or two ways of making the transitions between the various techniques I was teaching.
The second class I taught in five-beat swing was with Cat. She had been in Herräng one full day, and here she was confidently teaching a lesson! I had asked that the class be described in the meeting as "for those who like a challenge" and I got more advanced dancers this time. All my lessons got cut a bit short, because the electricity to the tents was turned off at 11.30 p.m., and the meetings were ending at 10.20 at the earliest. This was a bit of a shame, as some people were really getting into the swing of the five-beats, and I saw one couple dance what might have been the world's first five-beat back-Charleston.See some five-beat swing on YouTube. See some ska/swing fusion on YouTube.
Other evening classes taught included tango, arm styling (?), one I have wanted taught for many years: moves for the crowded floor, and a 'speed learning' session of about four ten-minute dance classes in different styles.
There are many parts to being a good dance teacher. One of course is being a good dancer. Good dancers find it easier to find employment as teachers, but the best dancers don't necessarily make the best teachers. There are other skills, like keeping a lesson moving and interesting, coping with mixed abilities in the class, communicating clearly, being charming and keeping it all fun, and monitoring how the class is going and reacting and adapting accordingly. There are great dancers who don't really know why they are great, and so are not able to put into words or into a lesson plan what it is they do to make the dance work. There are also some great dancers who use their dance skill in a rather aggressive way which separates them from the class, makes them seem lofty, and puts some of the class off by making it feel that it hasn't the talent to be good. This could be a defence mechanism used by teachers who are confident dancers, but not confident at teaching. Having said all that, though, I have to add that it is interesting that so many good dancers actually do make good teachers. It's almost as though people who are good at one thing tend to be good at other things. There is a school of thought that with beginners' classes the priority should be on teaching skill over dance ability. I am inclined to agree.
Weds. Week 4: Photo session
I had been invited to supper by a couple of the campers, and intended to go, but was roped into a photo session. The previous night I had noticed that Jenny Eish was happy doing the splits and being thrown about, and Jeremy, the camp photographer (I already did the 'camp photographer' joke last year) saw me as I recruited someone to help me throw her into the air from the forward splits position. He wanted this recreated in fancy togs. We had to get it right, though, and the session took a while, as we moved boats, signs, and rocks about to find the shot, and repositioned under the changing light conditions. Poor Jenny was hoisted up again and again, and each time could last less time in the pose, smiling and looking effortless.
Thursday Week 4: cabaret and shit music night
For the first time, I watched the cabaret from the dansbanan. The mosquitoes weren't as bad as I had feared. Vincenzo Fesi was the compère. There were more dance numbers than usual.
Some of the people who went to my five-beat swing lessons had asked if some five-beat music could be played in the evenings, at a pre-announced time. I told them to lobby the music people at the camp, but they wanted me to do it. I don't know how many asked independently. I was hesitant to ask, mainly because coming from me it would seem like self-promotion. I did ask, though, and was told that Take Five could be played on Thursday – shit music night. I was not impressed.
Following the rip-roaring success of shit music night last year, Mark Kihara's attitude at the start of this one was quite different. He seemed to be expecting to entertain us for some while. As last year, the crowd loved it. There was a tremendous spirit on the floor of shared fun. For the first time in ages, we were Lindy hopping to fun music, of very varied styles. Some of the numbers were just awful, but most were great. We bopped to rock and roll, to the Stray Cat Strut, to some blasting neo-swing, and some seriously excellent tracks. Inexplicably, Peel Me A Grape was played again – a fabulous blues dance number. I later asked Mark why he considered this to be so shit ("Kill me", he had sung over the words "peel me", with a gun-shaped hand to his head), but his answer wasn't clear. Other seriously cool tracks, like the theme to the Pink Panther were played – tracks often played at Herräng a few years ago. When the jam circle started, there was a great spirit of fun, and all manner of people leaped in to lark about – people who would never dare enter the hyper-serious authentic-jazz jams sanctioned by the Herräng Board of DJ Certification. Yes, even I jumped in a few times. I once jumped in with Leru, and we danced one beat ahead of the music (rock step of swing out starting on 8). It was interesting that the clapping from the audience faltered and faded during this.
The spirit lasted. I especially remember what fun people had with I've Had The Time of My Life from Dirty Dancing which prompted many co-operatively-supported cruciform leaps into the air from the ladies, and great accompanying cheers. When Herräng turns into a holiday camp, it makes a great holiday camp – so much more fun than when it insists on being an educational exercise in authenticity.
Take Five did get played, and I was able to dance it through with Cat. I heard one Lindy teacher remark that what we were doing was "really cool". Only cool enough for shit music night, though, officially.
Friday Week 4
The teams of volunteers were poised to start dismantling the camp as quickly as possible. I saw one lesson end in the Roseland, and standing ready was this team of workers, who quickly took up the floor and stowed it in a lorry.
The theme was mental institution. The title was "The Cuckoo's Nest Party". At the last hour I was asked to play the part of Freud (Sigmund, not Clement). I said I'd need a pair of spectacles for my costume.
I was stationed in the library, which as you see here was labelled "Inside Freud's brain". One problem with this location was that it wasn't on the way to anywhere, so we didn't get many passers-by. Also, the lighting was just ceiling strip-lights, which wasn't terribly atmospheric. No matter – we coped.
Though I am often stuck by how ugly men are, it's sometimes only when they dress up as women that I become so very violently struck by how staggeringly hideous we are. It is quite amazing to me how any woman can ever bring herself to kiss one. Tiarnan here is comfortably masculine (looking like Biffa Bacon's mother, as fans of the comic Viz might appreciate), and wouldn't fool anyone for an instant. Probably the most hideous are the men who at first glance could almost but not quite be real females – they look like women gone horribly wrong.
Inside, they had many things on tables for people to do – lots of puzzles and drawing materials (art therapy, perhaps). Strangely popular were these plastic beads on the pool table. For a while I even found myself arranging them. I was in a foul mood at this point, and just wanted the camp to end. I started arranging the beads into a stylised version of my own name as a way to pass the time, but then when finished I left the beads to be disturbed by someone else. I was insufficiently egotistic to iron them into permanence.
I took up my seat next to the consulting couch, and waited for patients. I had a notebook in which I took notes of cases, and drew breasts. I was also given two water-pipes for reasons that never became clear to me. I examined various cases, and came up with suitably daft Freudian diagnoses. It amazes me that anyone ever takes anything Freud concluded seriously. I saw his book on the interpretation of dreams in a paper as one of someone's six book choices. Doesn't everyone now know that Freud was, rather importantly, wrong?
Here you see me in the bar examining another patient. I apparently came up with a satisfactory diagnosis of her bizarre mental ailments. Photo' is courtesy of Annika Herlitz (on the right, with red snipers' aiming mark) – see her soon in a professional production of High School Musical, a show about the adventures of the world's shortest basketball team.
In the library, a silly song about a "banana 'phone" was played over and over again by DJ Tim, for an hour. Apparently this wasn't planned. I think I witnessed the start of it, which was accidental, as this year the CD players all seemed to develop the same habit of stopping mid-track and playing again from the start. As might be expected, over this time a dance was choreographed to go with the song. Later the song was played up in the main ballroom six times on the trot.
There was to be a show on the Folketshus stage, made up of acts from the new improved Cabaret Verboten. One planned was to be a duet of people dancing the Trunky Doo backwards, and I was asked to introduce it as MC. I planned to walk onto the stage backwards, and even started learning to say the introduction backwards (the introduction to follow the act, of course). In the end, though, the producer could only find one act willing to go ahead. It was these two Russian girls, who, inspired by the Siamese twins in the film Big Fish , mimed to a strange song. I decided to introduce them not on stage, but from the bridge, using voice only. I told the patients to take their pills (sweets brought round) and not to be alarmed by any hallucinations. The act went fine, but people expected more, and so I went back onto the mic to tell them that there was a tap demonstration in the library. This got them back onto their feet and moving again, but it also had the effect I feared: far too many people trying to cram into the library.
The endurance test was coming to an end. I did some dancing but really had had enough.
The Philosophy of Herräng
This year, they distributed a small pamphlet called Thoughts on the Philosophy of the Herräng Dance Camp, and they urged people to read it and heed it. Much of it was requests to park in the designated areas, not to annoy the locals with unnecessary noise, not to get drunk and so forth – things that presumably they feel necessary to set down in writing now that the camp has grown so much. One section I found a bit strange, though, and I'll quote an extract here:
The line between staff and students was less obvious than today and many students were from time to time an integrated part of the camp's arrangements and infrastructure. This active participation has unfortunately throughout the years gradually disappeared and is today very often sadly missed. For the future survival and development of the camp, we need to slowly try to bring things back on the tracks of integration and participation rather than recent years growing passive consumer approach.
I find this part a bit confusing. The camp this year had seventy-five people working as volunteers, and had people organising cultural activities, making entertaining videos, and teaching evening classes for nothing. How are people not participating as once they did?
I also can't help but feel that the camp organisers should not be surprised about this. The people who draw the line between teachers and pupils are the teachers, not the pupils. The Harlem Hotshots have cultivated aloofness to an art form. I've been going to the camp every year for ten years, and I've only once had a dance there with one of the HH. Most of them I've never even seen dancing with the customers. I have made videos for the camp, publicised it on my web-site, organised cultural activities, taught lots of evening classes, and performed in many cabaret shows and evening meetings, as well as helped out with the Friday night parties. Once I recall Sakarias saying that he liked my cabaret act, but other than that I've never had a single word of thanks, praise, or even acknowledgement for anything I've done. Indeed, I find it hard to catch the eye of most of them in passing even to exchange a nod of greeting or recognition.
The fun used to be free. They never used to charge for the evening parties, but now they charge a lot. If I go round to a friend's party and arrive a bit early, I might be asked to help with the canapés and decorations. I would happily help of course, but then my friend is my friend, and isn't charging me for the party. People happily pitch in and help a friend, and share the fun. But if I go to a professional event, and do not get to mix with the organisers, then I do not expect to organise it for them, and then get charged for the privilege. Of course people will not want to do stuff for nothing if they are then going to be charged to enjoy the fruits of their own labours. If you treat people like lowly customers, then that is how they will behave.
They charge so much for the evening parties because they are actively trying to discourage people from going to the camp just to have a fun holiday. Of course, many of the people who go to Herräng and don't take lessons are the very stars who bring extra magic to the camp. When Herräng started, it was purely a training course. They seem to have failed to spot that they have become a holiday camp which runs courses. Most people there do not want to visit a training facility – they want to feel that they are the centre of the fun swinging universe. I understand that the organisers don't want hordes of people straining the camp's meagre lavatorial facilities and contributing nothing. I think that it is reasonable that if I don't contribute financially to the camp by buying a Lindy hop course, then I contribute in some other way. I also think that they will have to change their attitude if they want to keep attracting the best dancers and most entertaining people, and get the ordinary punters to muck-in.
When I was talking to a well-regarded and successful international teacher, he said that the reason that none of his ilk any more teach evening classes at Herräng is that they get absolutely no thanks for doing so. I didn't get anything for entertaining so many campers so many times either. I still had to pay to get into the evening meetings. This amazed the people at Passport Control. They kept searching in puzzlement for my name on the guest list, and twice I was waved through, only idiotically to persuade them accept 200 SEK from me. This was especially annoying on the two nights when I paid the money to appear, half-dead with cold, on the camp's stage at the camp's request, and then to retire to bed. Anyway, the teacher I spoke with had been told that it was an honour for him to be allowed to teach at Herräng, and that he should be glad of the opportunity to showcase his talents. Hmm. I've heard several other anecdotes from annoyed people who have done similar favours for the camp, and been similarly snubbed. A camp like Herräng should look after its star attenders, and shouldn't be surprised if they get a bit pissed-off if it doesn't.
Saturday after camp
When to book a flight home has always proven difficult to decide. I don't like to miss out on opportunities to see Stockholm, see friends there, and I had missed both the previous 'battles' in Stockholm. Then again, I know that after Herräng I am always tired and in possession of few clean clothes, and I don't like to impose myself on anyone, or abuse a hospitable spirit. This year I booked to fly back on the Monday, so that I could stay for the battle. I was lucky in that I found someone willing to put me up on the Sunday night. I didn't find anyone to put me up on the Saturday night. I considered just staying up all night in Stockholm, or sleeping rough. In the end, it all worked out rather nicely.
I slept until late, got up, and had a lazy day of it. I went to the beach for the first time, fell asleep, swam, met some people who like me were going to go by bus to Stockholm on the Sunday, and spent a pleasant evening with them. No one asked me to dance, which was great. We cooked a meal from food abandoned in the 'Russian kitchen'. They went to sleep in the Folketshus, and I to my tent. I stopped by the red sauna house to use the loo, and found that it was still in operation. I was persuaded to use the sauna. I returned there and had a sauna on my own. Even though it was terribly hot, I did actually quite like it, but perhaps it would have been better with a lot of naked Finnish girls.
Over this time, I took some shots of the camp, as most of the camp-goers never see it.
Sunday after the camp: the battle
Bus to Stockholm, and used the same ticket for the tube train to get to my hostess's flat. I had a pleasant day walking about Stockholm in the sun, but since my excuse for being there was the battle, I went to the battle.
I probably shouldn't have bothered. It was 250 SEK to get in (£22.20 - the exchange rate was the worst ever this year: 11.266 SEK per pound). It was horribly humid. I wasn't impressed by the competition, not that I like competitions at the best of times. As usual, some less famous people danced really well, and then the most famous people won. My legs felt like lead and my knees didn't work. I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise to everyone I danced with that night, especially the girl during whose dance I had a coughing fit. The DJs played the same tedious music I'd been hearing for a fortnight solid. Most of the people there were from the camp. The best thing for me about the night was that it was over quickly.
I left hot and sunny Stockholm, and flew home. Vincenzo and Isabella were on the same flight as me, and they suggested our sitting together after take-off. After take-off, they fell asleep.
My rucksack didn't arrive with me in Newcastle. I took the Metro to the Regent's Centre, and walked from there. It was cold and grey, and I coughed as I shuffled back home. At least I didn't have to carry my luggage. My bag of dirty shirts was delivered the next day. Only one had gone mouldy.
I didn't, as you may have spotted, have a good time this year. The whole thing seemed like an exercise to remind me that my various careers, projects, and dreams are not progressing in quite the rocket-like manner that I would choose. I am tired of being told that I'm good at stuff and then getting nowhere. Going to Herräng and teaching ska lessons which for years have ended in loud and long cheers has so far got me a grand total of zero bookings as a dance teacher.
Anyway, that's just me being annoyed with myself. The camp can't be blamed for all that. I did in the fortnight I was there have about three decent nights of dancing, which is a bit worse than the usual ratio. The music didn't help. This year they played the narrowest selection of music ever. For the first time, the DJs were staff, and guest DJs very rare. The playlist they had to select from was such that we all heard the same few tracks being played over and over again, and all of them were very similar. There were ways of dancing Lindy that I never got to try because they never played the right music. They have three dance floors for the evening dances now, but all three played the same stuff. Everyone seemed to be complaining, but nothing changed. Perhaps this was part of Herräng's efforts to avoid becoming a holiday camp – you're not here for fun, you're here to learn. I think that a rebellion in which people with their own CDs and laptops take over a dance floor to play something different is far from out of the question. Indeed, it should have happened already.
I came back thinking to myself that I shouldn't have bothered going. The world I live in is big, and I have used up ten summers of my prime in Herräng. I won't say that I'll never go again, but I'll need a pretty good reason to go. I had a good time in Vilnius this year at a much smaller camp, where I was treated very nicely and got to be a tourist for the first time in years, so perhaps I'll go elsewhere for my Lindy, and perhaps one day I'll even get to see Troy.
Have I got anything from my time at Herräng? I'm sure I have. I'm a much better Lindy hopper than I was in 1999. I wrote these accounts of my times there, and through these met one good friend who read them. Someone suggested that I put all these accounts together and publish them as a book Ten Years in Herräng. Trouble is, the only place I'd be able to sell it would be Herräng.
Enough. Thank you for reading. Thanks to all the great people I've met at Herräng for being great. This is Lloyd, signing off, possibly for ever on this topic. Goodnight.